Metal legend Ronnie James Dio, before dying from stomach cancer in 2010, led bands like Rainbow, Dio, and Black Sabbath (in the non-Ozzy era) with richly-colored vocals and fantastical lyrics. The pint-sized singer, at 5'3″, was three inches shorter than his wife Wendy Dio, who now runs the cancer charity that bears his name.
April brings the release of a Dio tribute album, This Is Your Life, with covers by metal titans including Metallica, Anthrax, Mötorhead, and Rob Halford of Judas Priest, many of whom will perform live at The Avalon on March 17 at the pre-release party. Proceeds from both the album and ticket sales for the event, which is open to the public, will go to the Ronnie James Dio Stand Up and Shout Cancer Fund.
Wendy Dio has a lovely British accent. We spoke to her about meeting Ronnie for the first time, his early signs of cancer, and his posthumous residence in her house.
I heard you and Ronnie were introduced by Ritchie Blackmore in Los Angeles.
That's correct. I knew Ritchie and his wife for years in England, and I had bumped into them at the Rainbow. He had just formed this new band, Rainbow, and invited me to go to a party up at their house, in Hollywood Hills. I went up there, and they kept telling me, “Oh, Ronnie wants to meet you,” and I said, “Oh, he's much too short for me.” But he persisted, and I fell in love with him and his brain. He was an amazing person – not just talented but as a human being. Amazing person.
What do you think gave him his confidence?
I think because he was so loved by people and because he had such a great talent, which he was very aware of. [His height] didn't bother him. In fact, if you listen to his songs, they're always written about people that are maybe too fat, too tall, too short, too insecure. And to realize your dreams. Because if you realize your dreams, you'll be there. You'll get your dreams.
He was huge onstage. I saw him perform with Heaven & Hell in 2008, and he seemed so spry and healthy. I was shocked to learn soon after that he was sick.
I know. Stomach cancer is very hard to detect…People think they've just got indigestion, and for years, he said, “Oh, I've got indigestion.” He'd just take Tums and things. We had actually gone to a specialist, and if I knew what I know now, I would have made sure that he'd had a colonoscopy. But, at that time, the specialist was just worried about his heart, and he did some heart exercises, and everything went fine with that. [The specialist] said, “I think it's just a gas bubble. You'll be fine.” Had I known what I know now, I would have insisted he have more tests.
The interview continues below.
What was the inspiration for making this tribute album? Was it your idea?
Yes, it was my idea. I've been working on it for about two and a half years. I thought it was nice to do a tribute to Ronnie to keep his music and his legend alive and to make money for the charity so that we can put it into research…The research is for colon cancer, prostate cancer, and stomach cancer. We want to dedicate this to a lot of men's cancers, especially because of the fact that women are really good about getting checked. Men don't. You have to drag them there. So we're trying to educate men that early detection saves lives.
Ronnie is, of course, known for giving us the metal horns, and I understand you've suggested that maybe now the prostate exam should be done with the metal horns, as an homage.
[Cracks up] Yes, exactly! With the horns sign! I don't think that went down very well with the men.
Do you feel like Ronnie's still around?
Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. He's in the house, here. He's always here. I mean, I go to the cemetery every two weeks, but he's not there. I like to put flowers there because I don't want him to ever think he's forgotten, but he's here in the house, absolutely. I feel him here. I think he's driving me. I think he's driving this [charity] because a lot of times I go, “Am I doing the right thing? Should I do this?”
Have you had any sort of supernatural encounters, or is it just a feeling?
Sometimes it's stronger than others. Sometimes I feel he's right there. Sometimes I hear my name called, but there's nobody there. Maybe it's in my mind. Sometimes I'm looking for something, and I can't find it anywhere, and then all of a sudden it's sitting there. But that could just could be because I haven't looked properly! [Laughs]
I strongly believe that you are reincarnated and you can come back until you've done it right, until you've become the ultimate being, and I think Ronnie was at the point of being the ultimate being.
So, now he's-
Now he's somewhere, wherever the ultimate beings go.
Correction: The original version of this story says Wendy and James were married for 40 years, but that is incorrect.